ABB Review centenary highlights persistent challenges – and commitment to tackling them

ABB Review, the quarterly publication celebrating promising technologies and human achievement, takes a look back

The new edition of ABB Review commemorates the 100th continuous year of its publication. It acknowledges how history sometimes offers a humbling lesson on how solving the planet’s biggest challenges remains a work in progress.

Ideas we consider new often turn out to have been with us for a long time.

Take, for example, the September 1945 edition of what was then “The Brown Boveri Review.” World War II had just ended, and the company’s engineers were touting the benefits of direct-current transmission for shipping electricity from renewable power sources over distances exceeding a few hundred kilometers.

Fast forward to 2014, and this topic remains as relevant: ABB continues to champion high voltage direct current’s qualities in transmitting power over very long distances with higher efficiency and lower electrical losses than alternating current systems.

The end of coal – and the arrival of wind and solar

A few things have changed in the intervening years. Back in 1945, ABB engineers were sounding the drumbeat for remote power transmitted via HVDC as they anticipated the end of world coal reserves.

Now, renewable energy – from North Sea wind farms to remote solar electricity plants far from urban areas – provides the catalyst. Nations’ shift toward green power adds urgency to efforts to transmit power without big losses, especially as countries including Germany and Japan turn off their nuclear plants.

What’s more, HVDC projects are no longer merely a glimmer in an ABB engineer’s eye. About 130,000 megawatts of high voltage transmission capacity has now been installed in more than 140 projects worldwide. The first commercial endeavor, in 1954, was an ABB subsea project linking the Swedish mainland to the island of Gotland. Since then, ABB has installed the vast majority of the others, too.

Just as the articles featured during ABB Review’s first 100 years highlight persistent challenges of adapting to an increasingly dynamic energy landscape, they also underscore the company’s commitment to pushing technology to its limits to solve them.

ABB superlatives push technology boundaries

That very first ABB Review – the BBC Review, as it was known in July 1914 – illustrated the company’s enormous machinery on offer at the National Swiss Exposition in Berne.

The second Review’s cover, in glorious black and white, shows off five of the 57 ABB motors in a spinning mill in present-day Fouchy, France, that boosted textile industry productivity to new levels. (By the way, the latest  edition of ABB Review shows the newest motors, in glorious blue and red, that help the industry of today achieve new levels of output.)

Over the years, the publication has brought into focus the leading edge of technology from each respective era, from the “big, modern hydro-electric power station” outside Lima, Peru, completed in 1938 to ABB’s radio equipment for police vehicles patrolling the streets of Paris, circa 1949.

ABB once enabled police communications? Actually, it still does. Venice, Italy’s police use the company’s Tropos wireless networks to access data and video at breakneck speed. In the United States, Oklahoma City officers are among those who rely on Tropos to identify suspects in the field and to view video from security cameras situated around the oil metropolis.

What will the next 100 years bring?

Viewed through history’s lens, stories from ABB Review’s vault illustrate how challenges that confronted previous generations – whether transmitting electricity from afar, boosting productivity inside the factory or helping police catch bad guys – haven’t vanished. But neither has ABB’s commitment to tackling them.

It would be kind of interesting to be around for the 200th edition of ABB Review. Want to bet electricity, productivity and communications are featured on those pages, too?

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About the author

John-Philip Miller

I’m the senior editor in ABB’s group corporate communications team, in Zurich. For most of my career I’ve been a reporter, at Bloomberg News in Zurich and then for the last 10 years at The Associated Press in Idaho.
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